Thursday, 3 November 2016

A question of drones

Every ship has an engagement profile, but try as we might, we are inevitably forced to fight something outside that profile from time to time.

Often, when the ship is a cheap one, we take that loss on the chin and keep going. When we are talking about more expensive ships, though, it is worth seeing what we can do to try and mitigate, or escape, some of those unwanted engagements.

Today, I want to look at a very specific problem - that of a kiting ship holding us in place while either whittling us down, or waiting for friends. This has to be one of my least favorite ways to die in Eve; unable to fight back, and waiting for the inevitable.

Now, some ships, such as mwd frigates, can address this by trying to slingshot the kiter (unless they have an extended point range). And mjd battleships can simply jump out of the kiting ship's point range (unless they have a scram). And some ships, typically destroyers or frigates with long ranged weapons, can actually fight back against the kiting ship, driving it away (unless they have ewar).

For everyone else, though, it's probably going to come down using drones. Drones are great, because they are independent of your ship - much like having a group of low skilled, rather dim (but well meaning!) friends show up to help.

Drones can be fast, even when your ship has been made slow. Drones can target, even when your ship is being hit by ewar. Drones can attack, even when your ship has no cap.

Let's look at three different max skilled (but otherwise unbonused) drones.

Warrior II :
Max velocity - 6300 m/s
Orbital velocity - 900 m/s
Orbital radius - 700 m
Optimal + falloff - 4625 m
Tracking - 3.24
Dps - 16
Total hp - 480

Acolyte II :
Max velocity - 5775 m/s
Orbital velocity - 996 m/s
Orbital radius - 800 m
Optimal + falloff - 5000 m
Tracking - 2.988
Dps - 17
Total hp - 600

Hornet EC-300 :
Max velocity - 4000 m/s
Orbital velocity - 350 m/s
Orbital radius - 500 m
Optimal + falloff - 10000 m
Dps - n/a
Total hp - 250

Let's assume that we are being kited by a dedicated fleet tackler. Pulling a Malediction profile from EveUni, I can see that we would expect such a ship to have a cold max speed of 5,189 m/s, and a heated max speed of 7,400 m/s. Such a ship will be orbiting us at maximum speed, because it is not concerned with doing damage of it's own, and wants to mess with our tracking as badly as possible.

How does this play out? Well, first of all we can disregard the heated max speed. No unbonused drone will catch it moving that fast, but that is not a speed he can sustain for very long (about a minute, with max skills). Eventually, he will have to drop down to his cold max.

At this point, we can see that the Hornets still can't catch the interceptor, so we can disregard them. Launching ewar drones against a fast kiting frigate is simply a waste of time. An mwd Executioner with only a single speed mod does better than 4 km/s cold.

However, both the Acolytes and the Warriors can catch the interceptor. What happens then?

Well, my understanding of the drone AI (and I am happy to be corrected on this point) is that once the drone is sufficiently close to it's target, it will turn off it's mwd and attempt to settle into an orbit corresponding the listed 'orbital radius'. At this time, it's maximum speed is it's 'orbital velocity'.

While this works just fine against slow targets, or even fast targets that have been scrammed and webbed, what it means here is that the drone will almost immediately fall behind the interceptor. At that point, the drone will reactivate it's mwd and try to catch the interceptor, starting the cycle all over again. Each time the drone catches the target, it will get one attack (there is a 4 second cycle time on drone attacks), which may or may not hit the kiting ship.

Which one of these two drones is the better choice, then?

On the face of it, the Warrior looks pretty good. It's faster, and has better tracking. On the other hand, it needs to get closer to the Malediction before switching into attack mode (orbital radius 700 m), and has a slower orbital velocity, so it will fall behind faster. To make matters worse, it has a lower effective range, so it's more likely to miss with it's attack as it rapidly falls behind. Because this is a tail chase, the extra tracking is meaningless - the transversal between the Malediction and the drone will be close to nil.

The Acolyte, on the other hand, is still fast enough to catch a fleet interceptor giving three low slots and a rig slot to speed mods (if only barely). It also reaches attack range earlier (orbital radius 800 m), and has a higher orbital velocity, causing it to fall behind more slowly (although not slowly enough for a second attack). Falling behind more slowly, though, when combined with it's higher effective range, means that the attack is far more likely to actually hit the Malediction, which is what we need if we are going to drive it away. The slightly higher volley damage is a further bonus.

There are two other important points in favour of the Acolyte, though. First, it is significantly tougher than the Warrior. While the shield tanked Malediction from EveUni is fast, it is not packing any real weapons. Many Maledictions (and other interceptors) will fit weapons and a web specifically for destroying the drones that they know will come their way. In these cases the Acolyte has a real advantage over the Warrior.

Second, most interceptors will be shield tanked because they want to avoid the speed penalties associated with armor tanks. Even this Malediciton - which has a bonus to armor resists - has been shield tanked by EveUni for fleet ops! And the Acolyte fires straight into the EM resist hole that no interceptor can afford to patch effectively. So it's applied dps will be much higher than the poor Warrior, who deals explosive damage.

So if you want to carry a flight of drones that can drive off an interceptor, saving your shiny ship from the gang that is a jump or two out, you probably want Acolytes if you have max drone skills. If you don't have max skills then you probably want the Warriors, as they will still be fast enough to catch an interceptor even if your drone skills are weak, whereas the Acolytes may well end up being too slow.

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